What’s in a Name?

Yeah, yeah, we know, Will.

When it comes to naming your characters, will any old moniker do the trick? How do you decide what to name your characters?

Years ago, I bought a variety of baby name books that I thought might help me come up with fitting names for my characters. I looked up American Indian names, Jewish names, Spanish names, girls’ names, boys’ names, even ancient names.

In the main, this was a complete waste of time and money. Only one character in any of my stories got his name from a baby name book.

Now, of course, you can look these things up online, but to me, virtually the only value baby name lists have is either the name’s origin or the name’s meaning. It’s fun to look up the name’s meaning or origins and see if it fits.

I believe that, rather than surfing lists of names to hang, willy-nilly, on your characters, you should let the character tell you their names themselves. There, I said it, and I don’t care if it sounds crazy. Almost all of the characters in every story I’ve written revealed their names to me, not vice versa.

A friend asked me long ago why I chose to name an important secondary character in Memory’s Child something so “obviously contrived” as Fellon. He’s a thief and plunderer (they’re called Sackers in MC), so hence, Fellon, i.e. felon, right?

Nope. I didn’t notice the Fellon-felon thing for several pages. Fellon is simply his name. Any resemblance to crooks at any time in the history or future of mankind is purely coincidental. Or at least, deeply subconscious.

My skeptical friend gave it some thought and then opined that most readers wouldn’t notice the Fellon-felon similarity, anyway.

But the name fits his character, whether the sound resonates in your mind with images of burglars and jewel thieves or not.

There is a story behind the name of Shelana’s mother, Memory. I once met a woman whose name was Memory. Fascinated, I naturally asked why her parents named her that. Although I can’t remember her answer, I decided on the spot that someday, I’d write a character named Memory. Fortunately, this unusual — but very real — name worked out exceedingly well in the book.

Not all of the characters in your stories may reveal their names. Minor characters might not, and for the most part, who cares?

A minor character does give you the opportunity to play with names, though. How about a petty thief named Guy Purloyne? An acquaintance named Misty whose brief cameo in the story is purely to muddle the mystery? A bodybuilder nicknamed Tank, a dedicated jogger named Fleet, a banker named Coyne. All fun ways to play with minor characters’ identities. Poor things.

Over the course of writing a couple million words of fiction (most of which will never be seen by any eyes but mine), only one major character has given me trouble. He’s the one whose name came from a baby name book. The meaning of the name fits him, but he doesn’t like it. He prefers a name I don’t want to let him use. We’re still fighting over that.


2 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. I loved Memory’s Child!!!! This book was a fantastic read.. I could not put it down. Any thoughts on when the next book will be out??? I cant wait! I have already recomended this book to all my friends.

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